The Virtues of Repression
I am moved to ask the following question: Is repression good for you? Or, if not for you exactly, for art?
Take Delany as an example. In his early career, it was forbidden, particularly within our commercial genre, to write explicitly about what, for the sake of euphemism, I shall refer to as "transgressive sexuality." As a result, Delany was forced into a series of artful and highly successful maneuvers in order to write about his interests/obsessions while still producing successful commercial fiction. His early work won a great many awards and influenced any number of younger writers, including me.
Now that the weight of repression has been lifted, and Delany can write explicitly about his sexual interests, including a number of books that are frankly pornographic. (Delany embraces that term, by the way.) I find his fiction less interesting, and the porn, at best, depressing. (I except Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand, which was the terrific first half of a novel. I eagerly await the second half, twenty years on.) The only award Delany has won recently has been for his autobiography.
Or look at Roger Zelazny. He was a natural fantasist, but when he began writing there was no commercial fantasy available, so he had to write a kind of semi-fantasy that was disguised as science fiction. In the early novels there was always a tension between the science fiction overlay and the wild fantasy that was trying to break free, and Roger played on that tension like a master. Later, when fantasy had become a commercial genre and Roger could write outright fantasy, I found the fantasy less interesting.
Repression is good for business, because it makes people work harder at their jobs than at being happy. Is it good for fiction as well?
Was anyone interested in the breasts of Justice until Ashcroft draped them? Is football more intriguing when you never see the ball? Does Tokyo become more interesting when you have to pretend that Godzilla does not exist?